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September 22, 2008

South Carolina offense still a mystery

Conspiracy theorists would have a field day with this one.

Trying to explain South Carolina's offense after four games is a frustrating exercise. The Gamecocks rank third in the SEC in passing, fifth in red-zone offense and No. 1 in first downs.

But they're still not scoring many points, checking in this week at 11th in the league in scoring offense (20.2 points per game).

"We made a bunch of third downs," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Scored on five of the eight possessions. Would have been good if we'd have scored touchdowns instead of field goals."

One logical reason for the scoring struggles is that receiver Kenny McKinley, the team's best player, has missed the last two games with a strained hamstring.

However, the other players say McKinley's absence is not an excuse. They figure even with McKinley out, they've still got enough offensive stars to play the game the way the Spurrier wants it played.

"We played a pretty good game ... but there were a lot of opportunities out there that we didn't get," receiver Dion LeCorn said.

Spurrier pointed out the Gamecocks were first in the league in first downs, getting 30 in a 23-13 win over Wofford two days ago. They're also second in fourth-down conversions (Chris Smelley picked up a huge one against the Terriers) and fourth in third-down conversions (7-for-11 against Wofford).

Smelley is moving the team up and down the field, but anyone expecting a couple of 30-yard spirals to set up a red-zone possession had better watch another game. The deep ball has not been part of the offense.

Second, and most important, USC is getting yards and not converting them into points.

"I'm pretty confident we can get it done," Smelley said. "We just have to put it all together."

Spurrier mentioned his desire to try more downfield passes but simply couldn't see how it was going to work. Smelley has been harassed and bullied enough by defenders to force a more conservative game plan, leading to the shelving of the downfield pass.

The hot topic this week is whether backup quarterback Stephen Garcia will unseat Smelley as the starter. Garcia is much more mobile than Smelley and, from his high school days, seems to be used to running out of the pocket when under pressure.

"Chris only had four or five bad plays," Spurrier said on Sunday. "He did convert a bunch of third downs. I just wish he could eliminate some bad plays and make a few plays that he's certainly capable (of making)."

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